This short article is based on several years experience in training Baptist churches to do overseas missions work. It isn’t comprehensive and there are many other topics churches need to look at to be well prepared to become involved in these types of efforts. However, for too many years we have ignored a basic biblical teaching as we have carried out our missions work. This basic biblical teaching can be in found in Ephesians 4:11-13 as well as other places in the Bible. It is the teaching on spiritual gifts.
The issue of spiritual gifts has not received enough attention on church staffs when it comes to the makeup of mission teams heading overseas or cross culturally even in the US. The reality of people being gifted by the Holy Spirit for the building up of the church is one which can be a double edged sword in mission work. When these gifts are used at appropriate times and in appropriate ways then the church is built up. When things are done out of context or with little planning and foresight then the result can be far less effective. It is possible that the newly begun church will, in fact, be a crippled church…crippled by love expressed inappropriately.
When churches send volunteer teams into a location for the first time, we ask that they send people who are gifted in evangelism, apostleship and administration. These are the types of gifts which will enable the first team to make good decisions without their planning and thought processes being overcome by a sincere desire to help people. Having frequent communication with your local contact person to help you develop your plans is also very crucial to your success.
If that first team which goes into the new area is loaded with people whose spiritual gifting leans heavily in favor of mercy and helping then you run the risk of your initial evangelism/church planting efforts being linked to projects. While doing projects to meet humanitarian needs is a good work for us to be involved in, starting churches through doing expensive projects is a method of church planting which the new local believers often cannot duplicate.
Ask your local contact about any projects you might be thinking of doing. Hopefully you are partnering with a person who can give you good advice about what types of projects are appropriate and will not produce dependency on your wallet. The agency I work for often receives emails or phone calls from US churches which have gotten themselves embroiled in projects in Africa. They usually have had no appropriate training before getting involved in what initially looked to be a “good work”. Then after several months (or years) of dealing with what has become a financially draining issue, they contact us and ask us to “take over” their project. Of course, we can not do this.
It is imperative that any US church be properly trained before becoming involved in projects overseas.
Doing humanitarian projects
Is there a biblical basis for such a project-less approach? Yes, there is. In Luke 10:1-11 and again in Matthew chapter 10 Jesus taught those He sent out to leave their wallets at home. They were to pray for the sick and teach them about God, first. God is STILL in the miracle business today, but in the American church we have become so accommodated to paying for folks to be helped and/or healed that there is often little room for God to receive His glory for what He does. Instead, we get the glory and the praise because it is our money which is viewed as bringing the healing. I believe another reason for His teaching here is that when money is in the picture we don’t know if the new converts are following Christ or they are following our money.
So, is there a time when those whose spiritual gifting is best exercised through helping others will be allowed to be a part of this effort? Absolutely! The best time for them to step forward and become heavily involved is when those new churches are begun and the work can be done through the newly established church. That way the new church is viewed as having brought the help to their community. The new church is built up in the eyes of the community.
Of course, when lives are at stake and people are dying of disease and famine, all this changes. We go in to help keep people alive so that they can have time to hear the Gospel and consider the message of Christ. We help everyone, even those who reject our message of Christ’s love. When Jesus walked this earth being followed by crowds, He healed many people. Undoubtedly not all of them followed Him to the point that they were willing to sacrifice their lives for Him. Yet, He healed and loved them for God’s glory. We should follow His example.
Planning your teams
Set up your teams according to what task each team is to perform on that trip. Recruit people gifted for those tasks. Don’t first ask for volunteers and then decide what tasks they will perform. This isn’t strategic. This more strategic approach requires a church and its leadership to put in time communicating with the field contact missionary and planning out their engagment in the project. It is like building a house; the roofers don’t come out to work on it until it is time for roofers to be there.
The Bottom Line
There is room for everyone in this work. However, if we want our efforts to be fruitful and to have long term impact, then it is crucial that the work be done in certain ways. A properly planned out effort, well prayed over, and well led can have eternal impact.
Don’t cheat your church. Don’t cheat those whom God is calling you to serve. Don’t cheat yourself. Put forth the extra effort to get proper training. Involve everyone in a meaningful way. Contact your denominational leadership and find those specialized trainings which can help you to avoid problems and help you to be hugely successful in carrying out the work you feel led of God to do.
About the author: Clint Bowman is a graduate of Southwestern Theological Baptist Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. He graduated with a Masters in Religious Education. For the last several years he has served as a missionary trainer working with churches in the US who desire to do ministry in Africa.